Mental Health In Sales: In Conversation With Jeff Riseley

Mental Health in Sales Cloudlead Sales Health Alliance

Sales is a never-ending job – you finish the day’s target and there is tomorrow to look at.

You reach your month’s target and there are quarterly goals you have to keep in mind.

As a result, this field is known for being high paced and high stress leading to numerous mental health issues like generalized anxiety, depression and burnout. Interestingly, the cost of ignoring this is calculated to be above $1 trillion dollars in lost productivity in the US economy. Keeping this in view, it’s about time that we start a conversation around the impact of a field like sales on the mental health of salespeople.

This is why Noman Siddiqi, CEO of Cloudlead and Jeff Riseley, Founder of Sales Health Alliance sat down to discuss the importance of mental health for sales development representatives – and how it can affect everything from job satisfaction to financial turnover.

Here are some of the highlights of their conversation.

How does the relationship between an SDR and manager impact emotional and mental health?

As per Jeff, the relationship between a sales rep and manager should be like a “Vertical Couple”. In simple words, this concept refers to a vertical integration which aims to synergize all elements of a business at different levels.

Let us take a hypothetical example of Brian, an SDR and his direct manager Tim, who work for an SME.

Brian has been facing issues in meeting his daily targets for a while and is at a loss of how to tackle the issue. As a result, he gets more anxious and frustrated everyday – these emotions additionally impact his ability to do his job efficiently.

In this situation, it’s his manager’s job to provide him with the right support tools to deal with work stressors and difficult emotions before they escalate into mental health problems. In other words, if Tim stays focused on the bottom line only, it is bound to create a sort of dissonance or dis-balance in the synergy this vertical couple should have maintained.

In this scenario, Tim is indirectly employing Seagull Management; where he flies in when he deems a problem has risen, uses Brian’s expertise to finish his in-hand tasks, and flies out. Tim is not recognizing that Brian is an asset for the company and would produce better results if they had a better, communicative relationship.

According to Noman, one of the best things that a manager can do is maintain an ‘open forum to have healthy communication.’

What’s the impact of micromanagement on a salesperson’s mental health?

Micromanagement in literal terms is defined as closely observing or controlling a subordinate. In essence, this makes the subordinate believe that the manager does not trust him, provides less freedom to be creative and creates a controlled environment.

Earlier research and cases have shown that micromanagement can create resentment in subordinates and has played a vital role in the declining of the subordinate’s self-esteem. Aggressive management styles have made employees want to resign from their jobs and find a more appropriate growth environment for their careers to flourish.

Noman adds that it’s important to focus on the varied benefits of putting your trust in your team of SDRs. In fact, having experienced such a style of management and leadership early on in his career, he made sure to create an environment at Cloudlead where salespeople could properly deal with their work stressors.

Some of his effective solutions include:

      •   An open-door policy for all employees
      •   Strong HR training & development functions
      •   Access to licensed mental health professionals

According to Noman, “A good sales manager would not just focus on a linear approach towards improving sales, they would focus on an overall holistic approach. This can be done by taking simple steps like creating a safe space for conversation and addressing the root cause of work-related problems.” In his experience, such practices maximize SDRs productivity and create a healthy working environment.

How has COVID-19 affected salespeople?

According to Jeff, post COVID-19, addiction and mental health issues have drastically risen and have caused adverse effects to many businesses. He adds, “Organizations are now acknowledging that health is directly related to productivity. Since after COVID, the rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and email apnea have increased greatly. At this time, it is important to re-establish the connection that was lost during isolation, which will essentially release oxytocin and create a feeling of trust and give you the ability to be open with each other.”

The simplest way to address these issues is to treat every individual uniquely because everyone will experience different stressors, triggers or stimuli.

What are some strategies to address mental health issues?

1)  Ergonomic Mental Health Strategy To explain the concept better, refer to the following definition sourced from the International Ergonomics Association:

“Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” International Ergonomics Association

Ergonomics in strategy can be employed by simply changing seating and lights as per employee feedback, providing the ease to move in a larger space while working, or just adding more plants at the workplace.

 2)  90-minute plan: Research and Harvard Business Review publication confirms that the optimal human limit for focusing intensely on a given task is maximum 90 minutes after which the marginal utility of a person starts decreasing.

Organizations need to put this practice in place – let salespeople take a break after every 90 minutes. To make this possible, managers need to ask their team members to take a break from emails, computer screens and phones altogether.  This will also reduce issues like frustration, restlessness, irritability, etc. which can pile up and add to their overall stress.

3)  Vacations and Retreats: Businesses need to recognize that innovation stems from creativity, and creativity comes from new experiences and freedom of expression. If an employee is confined in the same environment for months, they would not be able to get the right exposure needed to get their creative juices flowing. 

And this is also one of the main reasons why Noman introduced a paid vacation plan at the workplace. “Individually, we made sure that two out of 10 people from the same team spend their time more on vacations with their families. It was not more like individual vacation. They just pick up their car and drive all the way to sort of, uh, the Northern areas of Pakistan and enjoy their time off. Each person was given approximately $700 with seven days. And that kind of resulted in a very significant growth in the last quarter where we saw revenues jumping up by 30%, literally, despite the fact that COVID was there. And usually for us, December, the Christmas season, is a slow season, but this plan really seemed to work to motivate our sales team to reach for more in a way.”

Overall, these strategies help SDRs cope with the buildup of stress, anxiety and depression. Most importantly, it helps them deal with negative experiences like ‘almost there’ deals falling through in a healthy way.

With the help of this interview, Noman and the team at Cloudlead hopes to create more awareness and conversation around the crucial topic of mental health in sales – and how businesses can help SDRs cope.

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